On the classical music radio station, they had a program called False Conclusions. The host presented a number of works that seem to end and then continue for another two or three minutes. I listened intently because indeed it sounded as if each piece should have finished minutes earlier.
When I read the gospel of John, I am reminded of that program. John ends chapter 20 with these words, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name.” You would expect an ‘Amen’ and the end of the book, but instead, chapter 21 begins.
At the end of the 21st chapter we read these words, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”
One can say that the first conclusion is about purpose and the second is about quantity. Many people read the gospels and become knowledgeable about them as unique literature. We are even able to teach the Scripture in various academic settings, such as high schools and colleges, without pressing the last verse in chapter 20. However, the purpose of Jesus Christ coming into this world and the desire that John had for his readers was that they will have eternal life. One can look at John 20:30-31 as a different way of phrasing John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
The conclusion of the 21st chapter is hyperbolic, but it also tells us that no gospel could have accounted for all the things that Jesus did in his ministry. I was thinking of the two 4o day periods in the life of Jesus. He starts his ministry by praying and fasting in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. It is in those 40 days that he was tempted by the devil, and that he was surrounded both by the angels and by the wild animals. Mark summarizes 40 days in the wilderness in two verses.
Jesus spent 40 days on earth between his resurrection and the ascension. Each of the gospel writers had glimpses of events that occurred in those 40 days. However, when we read the first epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, we find a number of appearances of Jesus that are not in the gospels (I Corinthians 15:5-8). When we read Paul, we are reminded of what John said – there are many other things that Jesus did which were not recorded in the gospels.
We do not possess an exhaustive, unabridged account of the life of Jesus Christ on this earth. We do not have an exhaustive, unabridged account of the 40 years that Moses and the Israelites spent in the wilderness. We do not have an exhaustive, unabridged account of the creation story. God did not try to exhaust us – he tried to save us. We may not have all the data, but the data that God through Holy Spirit gave us is sufficient for us to choose to follow Him.
It is much better to use the data that we have and be saved than to complain that you do not have enough data. Complaining does two things – makes you complain against the wisdom of God and still leaves you unsaved. Or to use Psacal Wager’s – use the data that you have and become saved, and when you reach the glory of God, you can ask for some more details!